Mexican Vanilla Recipes

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We recently told you about how some of the world's best vanilla is harvested in Veracruz, Mexico.

Here are three recipes for putting Mexican vanilla to use. Excerpted and adapted from Susana Trilling's Seasons of My Heart, A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico.

Layered Mango Pudding, or "Charlotte" (Ante de Mango)

There are many variations of antes, using different dry breads or cakes layered with seasonal fruits and pastry cream. This version was shared by my friend Luz Elena, the mother of my son Kaelin's classmate Pedro, during mango season. Although it seemed too easy to be true, it's delicious. You can use any fruit you have on hand and any type of dry, airy bread or cake. You should make this dessert at least a day or two in advance for all the flavors and textures to combine. It's great after a big dinner, because it's so light and fruity.

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup raisins
2/3 cup sweet sherry
7 cups pan de yema, or challah, or other egg bread, fresh or a few days old; or dry anise sponge cookies, biscotti, or ladyfingers
3 large ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted, cubed (5½ to 7 cups)
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure Mexican vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream, whipped until stiff

METHOD

In a small saucepan, plump the raisins in the sherry for 15 minutes over low heat, covered. If you are using fresh bread, dry the bread in the oven for 10 minutes. (If using dry bread, anise sponge cookies, biscotti, or ladyfingers, omit this step.)

Place half of the mango and all the evaporated milk in a blender. Puree until smooth. Empty this mixture into a bowl and repeat with the remaining mango, condensed milk, and vanilla. Add to the first mixture and mix well. Fold in the whipped cream one third at a time.

Strain the raisins and reserve the sherry and raisins.

In a clear serving bowl with straight sides, make a layer of half the bread cubes. Sprinkle half of the reserved sherry over the bread, followed by half of the raisins. Add half of the mango mixture. Add another layer of bread, sherry, and use the raisins, saving about 5 raisins for the top. Add the remaining mango mixture and the raisins to decorate the top. Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: You can make this in the morning and serve at night, but it really is better if you leave it a day or two. Serve in wineglasses with a dollop of whipped cream, if you wish.

Oaxacan Chocolate Pudding (Budin de Chocolate Oaxaqueño)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup mescal, or coffee-flavored cream de mescal
2 bolillos (3 1/2cups) or dense French bread, crusts trimmed off, bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound Oaxacan chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup strong coffee
3 large eggs
1 cup Mexican crema or créme fraîche
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure Mexican vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon

For la salsa de tuna:

1 3/4 cup red fruit of the Nopal cactus puree (other fruit such as mango, raspberry or strawberry can be substituted)
8 ounces mandarin orange juice
2 tablespoon sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons Cointreau

For the topping and assembly:

1 cup whipping cream or créme fraîche
1/2 teaspoon Mexican vanilla
1 to 2 ounce bar of Mexican chocolate

METHOD

For the budin:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the raisins in a small mixing bowl and add the mescal. Leave the raisins to soak for 1 hour, or simmer them covered on a low heat for 10 minutes, until plump.

Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven until lightly toasted (15 minutes). Set aside. Turn off the oven.

Put the chocolate and coffee in a double boiler over medium heat until the chocolate is melted.

Put the eggs, cream, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a medium-size bowl and stir with a whisk until blended. Stirring the egg mixture continuously, pour in the melted chocolate and continue stirring until thoroughly blended.

Add the raisins, mescal, and toasted bread cubes to the bowl and stir well. Set aside at room temperature until the bread completely soaks up the mixture, about 2 hours. (This can be made a day ahead).

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Divide the pudding mixture into twelve 5-ounce buttered ramekins. Put them in a baking pan large enough to hold them all without touching. Slide out the oven shelf, put the pan on the shelf, and pour in the boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the puddings are fully set but still moist, about 50-60 minutes. Place the ramekins on a cool rack.

After cooling 15 minutes, remove budin from the ramekins.

For the tuna salsa:

In a sauce pan, over medium heat, reduce the mandarin orange juice and sugar to 3 ounces of liquid. Set aside to cool. When cool, add the puree and the Cointreau.

For the topping and assembly:

Whip the cream and vanilla.

Spoon the salsa de tuna on a plate, place the budin in the middle of the salsa, and add the whipping cream on top. Dust with finely grated Mexican chocolate. Garnish the plate with flowers. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 five-ounce ramekins.

Note: The salsa de tuna will last two days in the refrigerator.

Shrimp Sautéed with Garlic and Chile Guajillo (Camarones al Ajillo)

Playa Panteón, in Puerto Angel, is named for the beautiful graveyard perched up on the hill overlooking the sea. It is here that our friend Panchito, who started Piña Palmera, is buried. Always a lucky person, he is in a resting place lulled by the sounds of the waves at the beach. On the beach, there are a few places to eat with the fishermen's families who over the years have grown to be professional restaurateurs. This recipe was inspired by Señora Torres of Restaurant Susi, where you can eat great seafood while you wiggle your toes in the sand. Serve this with Arroz blanco con plátanos fritos.

INGREDIENTS

For the chiles guajillos:

3-4 chiles guajillos, stemmed, seeded, and deveined
1/2 cup sunflower or vegetable oil

For the shrimp stock:

1/4 medium white onion
3 garlic cloves
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
A few black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 chile de árbol
Pinch of salt

For the shrimp:

2 tablespoons chile guajillo oil or olive oil
11/2 pounds head-on shrimp, shelled, deveined, and deheaded, or 1 pound headless shrimp
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vanilla olive oil

METHOD

For the chiles guajillos:

Wash the chiles well and cut them crosswise in very thin strips to make rings. Place them in a glass jar with the oil. You can do this the day before, if you like.

For the shrimp stock:

In a heavy 4-quart stockpot, put the shrimp heads and shells in 2 quarts of water with the onion, garlic, lime juice, peppercorns, bay leaves, chile de árbol and salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve. If the stock is very watery, reduce some more and reserve.

For the shrimp:

You can cook these in 2 batches, reserving the cooked shrimp in a bowl, until the other batch is done, and then return them for one minute in the sauce to reheat and serve.

Heat a medium frying pan with the chile guajillo oil. Add 1/2 of the shrimp, 1/2 of the garlic, and 1/2 of the parsley, and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. When one side of the shrimp is pink, turn them over, and add half of the chile strips. Reserve the oil in the jar to soak more guajillos. Continue to cook over medium heat until cooked through, about 1-2 minutes. When the shrimp are cooked, remove them and set aside. Repeat with the other half of the shrimp and remove. Add 8 ounces of strained shrimp stock. Reduce sauce to half, uncovered, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Add the softened butter bit by bit, shaking the pan to "mound" the sauce. Taste and add salt or lime juice for flavor. Return the shrimp to the sauté pan, over low heat, to reheat and coat them with the sauce. Swirl in the vanilla olive oil.

Serve as a main course around hot mounded cooked rice on a plate or serve with hot tostadas or bollilos as an appetizer.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: You can make vanilla flavored olive oil by heating three beans in virgin olive oil slightly, until it gives off its scent. Let it sit for a week or two and use in dressings, or fish or shrimp dishes.

Recipes above excerpted from Seasons of My Heart, A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico. (Ballantine Books, November 1999) Reprinted with permission of the author. To learn how to buy the book, write to Jacqui Sattler in Pennsylvania. Her e-mail address is seasonsofmyheart_cookingschool@yahoo.com.

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